Lenore Skenazy has become perhaps the foremost expert in the field of overwrought parenting. Her 2009 book “Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry,” argues forcefully that adults have gone too far in trying to protect kids from dangers that are greatly exaggerated. The result, she maintains, is a generation of young people who were never given the opportunity to mature into responsible and able adults.
Ms. Skenazy has collected scores of anecdotes about parents being prosecuted or threatened by the authorities for allowing preteens to walk to school unsupervised, stay at home alone for a few hours, play by themselves in the park without a nearby adult or sit alone for a few moments in an idling vehicle.
Now she has a new category of overreaction: child labor concerns.
Last week, Ms. Skenazy shared on Reason.com the story of a Washington state mother who posted an advertisement on behalf of her 9-year-old daughter who was willing to do various housekeeping chores for neighborhood moms in return for spending money. Six hours later, the cops showed up.
“Apparently the ad generated multiple phone calls from paranoid neighbors thinking I was using my child as a slave,” the mother, Christina Behar, wrote to Ms. Skenazy.
Satisfied that Ms. Behar wasn’t running a sweatshop, the officer left without incident. In defiance, Ms. Behar said she will keep the ad up. “It’s a shame that our culture has resorted to this paranoia,” she wrote. “It’s robbing our children of the pride that learning skills and hard work bring.”
It may be a shame, but it’s not surprising. Talk to any high school teacher about helicopter parents and their children. Talk to college administrators about the young adults who show up on campus wholly unprepared to deal with being away from their parents and structured home lives.
“What I’ve been fighting against for the last seven years,” Ms. Skenazy told The Washington Post in 2016, “is a culture that believes children are in constant danger. … We don’t need a security detail every moment when (our children) leave the house. I’ve come to realize that we’re afraid for our children every single second of every single day. There are twin fears stalking American parents: that their children will be kidnapped and murdered, or that they won’t get into Harvard.”
As for the 9-year-old Washington girl? Her mother appears to have the right attitude about instilling responsibility into her child.
“Letting kids do some work for money isn’t making them into slaves,” Ms. Skenazy writes. “It’s making them into adults. That shouldn’t be a crime.”